We’ve previously reviewed Bellevoye’s Bleu variety of this whiskey, the “standard edition” if you will. But there are several other versions as well — a red label, a white label, and what we’re reviewing today: the black label version. Billed as the star of their lineup, I was curious to see how well the top of their range stacked up against the competition.
Founded in 2013 by Alexandre Sirech and Jean Moueix, Les Bienheureux (“the blessed”) is a company formed just as French whiskey was emerging on the market. The two founders envisioned a world where French Whiskey was seen with the same reverence as Champagne or other regional drinks — instead of a novelty. They wanted to establish a luxury brand of French whiskey.
The company initially started producing a line of rum, specifically their Embargo and El Pasador de Oro brands, have been widely distributed and seen some success, and the Bellevoye brand of whiskey has only just become available after aging.
Bellevoye is a blended whiskey that combines the product of three undisclosed distilleries from different regions of France (Lile, Alsace, and Cognac) into a finished product.
The individual whiskies all start as a fermented mash of malted barley. From there, they are distilled and aged at the respective distilleries for a period of between three and eight years in oak casks. Once properly aged, they are combined at the Bienheureux production facility in Cognac and further aged together for an additional ten months.
This specific variety adds the extra step of roasting the barley with peat moss, a step common in the production of scotch whiskey that typically adds a specific peat flavor to the finished product.
Typically, we test spirits in four phases: neat, on ice, and in a few cocktails (usually one standard and one carbonated / fizzy) — but our exception to this rule is scotch single malt whisky. These last two tests really aren’t helpful for differentiating between a good scotch and a bad scotch, because the results are nearly identical no matter what. And since this malt whiskey is made in roughly the same fashion as a scotch, we’re also going to skip those two phases in our testing
Bellevoye was designed to be a luxury brand of French whisky and the packaging certainly conveys that impression.
The bottle itself is elegantly styled, almost like a cut diamond. It reminds me of old perfume bottles. The body is square with clipped edges, featuring a thick glass base which should light up nicely on a bar with under-bottle lighting. The body is slightly wider on the top with a sharp shoulder that tapers to a short neck. The whole package is topped with a wood and cork stopper.
I do like the labeling on this bottle. There are two labels affixed to the front and rear aspects of the bottle that cover nearly the whole surface, but they don’t extend past the clipped edge and leave plenty of room to see the amber colored spirit inside. The labels are a solid color with an understated and minimalist design which adds to the impression of luxury.
Comparing the spirits side by side, there isn’t much difference in color –perhaps a slightly darker shade of caramel for the black label over the blue, but nothing as drastic as comparing Buffalo Trace to Glenmorangie.
In the glass, the spirit smells exactly like a scotch whiskey. I think I even did a double take to make sure I poured the Bellevoye and not Johnnie Walker Red. The two spirits smell very similar in my mind, the earthy peat notes mixing with a toffee vanilla backing and a lingering fruity aroma that smells like apples and pears to me.
The spirit has a good bit of weight to it — not quite as thick and syrupy as an American bourbon, but more substantial than a traditional scotch.
That said, the comparison to Johnnie Walker remains. The actual flavors in the spirit remind me more of the Black version than the fruity and blend-happy Red, but the resemblance is uncanny. There’s the vanilla and toffee that we were expecting, but it gets overpowered by the peat before any of the fruit can make itself known.
Adding an ice cube turns this from a black label to a blue. All of the peat flavor has disappeared and what you’re left with is a bog standard malt whiskey. There’s some good vanilla and caramel flavors in there and a good amount of sweetness but there’s really nothing to write home about.
While it’s good, the problem is that it’s a French whiskey trying very hard to be a scotch.
Scotland has developed and cultivated a very specific fingerprint for the aromas and flavors of their spirits over the years. There are some excellent distilleries that play around with those flavors and come up with new and interesting versions, but the basics are pretty set in stone. So when I smell and taste those same hallmarks coming from a spirit, I instantly think “Scotland” and not “France.”
France is the land of terroir, where the specific location something was made influences the flavor. It’s so specific in the Loire Valley, that terroir can be defined by individual plots of land. What Bellevoye has done is remove the element of terroir from their whiskey by blending three expressions from such vastly different parts of the country and then further obscuring those differential flavors by adding the peat on top.
I appreciate that they’re trying to emulate other spirits and bring a French twist to a traditional Scottish drink, but in this case I just don’t see the appeal. It smells and tastes like Johnnie Walker, and at that point I’m just paying for the fancy bottle really.
|Bellevoye Bellevoye Noir Triple Malt Whisky|
Produced By: BellevoyeOwned By: Les Bienheureux
Production Location: France
Classification: Blended Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $65 / 750 ml
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Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s not bad, it’s just a scotch with a fancy jacket.